Health

Experts advise that current wood heater models are too polluting to be allowed - cause heart attacks, strokes, lung diseases, dementia, cot deaths & affect children's development

Current wood heater models are too polluting to be allowed. NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said wood heaters are so detrimental to health she supports banning and phasing them out in built-up urban areasThe NSW Asthma Foundation warned that: wood smoke emissions in winter pose a bigger health danger in built up urban areas than cars or cigarettesAustralian Lung Foundation spokesman Dr James Markos said wood fire heaters should be banned from urban areas. He said real-life emissions from new wood-heaters have little relationship to measurements from a perfectly operated test model under laboratory conditions.

The Committee that set current 'standards' had no health experts and was powerless to make any real improvements because the wood-heating industry is allowed to veto any proposed changes. This was confirmed by a Senate Inquiry 'Impacts on health of air quality in Australia'.  One of the few independent members of that Committee, the Clean Air Society of Aust/NZ recently recommended to the NSW Government that "action to ban domestic solid fuel burning for domestic heating should be seriously considered".

The UN Environment Program/World Meteorological Organization (UNEP/WMO) recommended phasing out log-burning heaters in developed countries to reduce global warming as well as improve health.  56% of submissions to the Commonwealth Government's Woodheater Consultation Regulation Impact Statement supported either a ban on all wood heaters, or not allowing new ones to be installed.

Launceston's $2.08 million woodsmoke program reduced deaths in winter from respiratory disease by 28% and cardiovascular disease by 20%.  Year round, for men, the reductions were 23% (respiratory), 18% (cardiovascular) and 11.4% (all deaths).  Based on a population of 100,000, the cost of cleaning up the air was less than $21 per resident. 

No safe level of PM2.5 pollution – 25 ug/mequates to smoking 3 cigarettes/day.  Fine particulate matter affects more people than any other pollutant, with chronic exposure causing the most deaths from serious disease, according to the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization (WHO). Health authorities warn there is no safe level of PM2.5 pollution.  Medical doctor & epidemiologist at the University of Newcastle, Dr Ben Ewald, told the Senate Inquiry into air pollution and health that exposure at the current advisory limit of 25 ug/m3 has equivalent mortality risks to actively smoking 3 cigarettes a day.  The recent consultation on particle standards showed overwhelming support for a reduction to 20 ug/m3 PM2.5. 

A single household per hectare heating with wood or coal increases the risk of an infant under 3 having a non-accidental visit to an emergency department by 7%. "Policies that reduce smoke pollution from domestic heating by as little as one household per hectare using solid fuel burners could improve child health."

2 hours wood-heating = 1 year of driving.  Woodsmoke PM2.5 was described as worse than car exhausts.  The average new wood-heater emits about 20 grams of PM2.5 in 2 hours, as much as the average petrol car emits in an entire year.

Increased exposure of just 2 ug/m3 PM2.5 increases the risk of silent stroke by 46% and decreases brain volume by 0.32%.  A study published in the American Heart Association journal, Stroke, found that an increase in PM2.5 exposure for people over 60 of just 2 μg/m3 was associated with a 0.32% smaller total cerebral brain volume and a 46% higher risk of covert brain infarcts, a type of silent stroke. One in six people in Australia will be affected by stroke. It is the nation’s leading cause of disability.Living downwind of an Australian wood heater (new or old) will often increase annual PM2.5 exposure by more than 2 ug/m3.  A Canadian study published in 2017 "noticed that the association (between heart attacks and air pollution) was stronger when more of the air pollution came from wood burning."  The city with the highest woodsmoke pollution (Courtenay, averaging 13.1 ug/m3 in winter) had an estimated 17% increase in heart attacks for every 5 ug/m3 of PM2.5 pollution - representing a 34% increased risk just from short-term exposure, with an even greater increase expected on repeated exposure throughout the winter.

A peer-reviewed study of spatial variability of PM2.5 pollution in Armidale concluded that wood heaters increased annual population exposure to PM2.5 pollution by about 11.5 ug/m 3, implying that residents will suffer 2.6 times as many covert brain infarcts as they would if the city had no woodsmoke pollution.  PM2.5 concentrations were highest in residential areas (rather than in the CBD, where the PM2.5 is measured by the local council).

PM2.5 linked to heart attacks, strokes, cancers, lung diseases, kidney disease, dementia, Alzheimers & affects babies and children at levels well below 25 ug/m3 Woodsmoke-affected towns such as Armidale still have many days above the current limit of 25 ug/m3, let alone 20 ug/m3.  Few people in Armidale realise that the entire city often suffers air pollution levels worse than everyone smoking 3 cigarettes a day, or that in Canada, woodsmoke levels of just 6 to 10 ug/m3 were found to increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary and adversely affect blood vessel health, indicating increased risk of heart disease.  There is limited awareness that, as well as increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancers and lung diseases, toxic chemicals in woodsmoke known as PAH have been linked to genetic damage in babies and reduced IQ when children start school.  Similar problems have been noted in developing countries, where children whose mothers cook with wood (as opposed to kerosene) have reduced IQ, memory and poorer social skills. An Australian study linked using a closed wood heater to childhood brain tumours; another found that wood stove use increased the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in childhood.  Harvard University researchers found that for every 1 ug/m3 increase in PM2.5 exposure, researchers found the risk of dementia increased by 8%, the risk of Alzheimer's disease increased by 15% and the risk of Parkinson’s diseases increased by 8%.

1 day's heating = 120,000 cigarettes.  Wood smoke was found to cause 12 to 30 times as many tumours in mice and mutations in bacteria as the same amount of cigarette smokeA single wood heater chimney burning 20 kg wood (a day's heat) emits about 200 grams of PM2.5as much as in the smoke from 10,000 cigarettes,  with the tumour potency of at least 120,000 cigarettes.

Links to autism. Prof Frank Kelly, director of the environmental research group at King's College London, discussed the research linking PM2.5 pollution to autism: "I think if it was this study by itself I wouldn't take much notice, but it's now the fifth that has come to the same conclusion”.  Concerns have also been expressed about synthetic perfumes which also contain benzene rings.

Air pollution linked to mental health problems in children and inflammation of the nervous system. A major study published in the journal Toxicology in 2008 reported results from a study children and young adults who were otherwise healthy but died suddenly. Those who had lived in cities with high levels of air pollution had inflammation in their nervous systems and an altered immune system response. They concluded that air pollution should be considered a risk factor for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Need health-based wood heater standard. It is now time to take account of the recommendations of health authorities such as the Chief Medical Officer, and the lack of a health-based standard for new wood heaters. Standards Australia's protocols allow industry to veto proposed changes.  A new emissions test was under development in 2007 until the wood heating industry vetoed recommendations approved by 15 votes to 4 by the previous Standards Australia committee to set an interim limit of 2 g/kg and require wood heaters to display warnings to alert users to the dangers of breathing woodsmoke.  Work on the new test was abandoned after the veto in 2007.  A new committee with no health nor epidemiological experts was formed in 2013 at the request of the wood heating industry.  Unsurprisingly (given the industry veto), the revision required only minimal changes - the emissions limit will be reduced to 2.5 g/kg from August 2015. 

The photos show emissions from brand new heaters in brand new houses in Armidale.  The newest installation (August 2014) was noted to have emitted smoke continuously at the level shown for over 10 hours, despite Armidale Council’s education policy and requirement for new heaters to be rated less than 2.5 g/kg.  All except the top left chimney have ratings known to be less than 2.5 g/kg.  Reducing the limit on a test that does not measure real-life emissions does not appear to be effective.  In New Zealand, several small towns, e.g. Alexandra (pop 4824), Arrowtown (pop 2400), Clyde (pop 900), Cromwell (pop 4896) have virtually no other sources of air pollution apart from wood-heaters. These towns reduced the limit for new heaters to 0.7 g/kg and required those with AS4013 ratings over 1.5 g/kg to be removed by January 2012. Despite this, the four towns had respectively 42, 24, 7 and 29 exceedances of the 50 mg/m3 limit in 2012.

Education programs have little effect on emissions from existing heaters.  Launceston's $2.05 million education and wood-heater replacement program did not solve their problem of emissions from new heaters.  Real-life emissions from AS4103 heaters operated by motivated volunteers (observed in several cases to refuel the heater in the middle of the night, rather than leave it to smoulder) averaged 9.4 g/kg.  This suggests that the best that can be expected from a new heater burning 3 tonnes of wood per year is about 30 kg PM2.5, similar to annual PM2.5 emissions from 2,000 petrol cars each driving 15,000 km per year in the city.

Armidale Dumaresq council’s submission to the Federal Government in 2013 on wood-heater regulation states: “It is estimated that Council has committed more than $300,000 (excluding wages) in the past 10 years on wood smoke abatement measures”. Despite this, over the last 3 years (2012-14) PM2.5 from May to August averaged 14.9 ug/m3 at the CBD, compared to 13.9 ug/m3 for June to August in 1999. 

Industry-set “standards” are meaningless.  Allowing the wood heating industry to set standards makes no more sense than allowing the tobacco companies to set policy on cigarettes.  New standards for vehicles (set by the Federal Government) reduced PM2.5 emissions from diesel cars and SUV by more than 99%.  Councils should therefore insist on a new wood heater standard, set by independent health experts, before any more heaters are installed. History shows that when new standards are set, industry soon develops less polluting models.

UN Environment Program recommends phasing out log-burning heaters to reduce global warming. This option is best for health and, as the UN Environment Program/World Meteorological Organisation advises, also helps limit global warming to 2 degrees.  On low burn, enclosed wood heaters emit substantial quantities of methane, carbon monoxide, black carbon and ozone precursors.  Over the critical period between now and when the 2 degree target is likely to be exceeded, the average house using wood heating is likely to cause about 10 times as much global warming as one using an efficient electric heat pump. 

New houses have clean, cost-effective alternatives.  Thanks to State Government regulations, new houses must have insulation and, thanks to Federal Government Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), the average new heat pump is about twice as efficient as 10 years ago.  Data provided by one manufacturer shows that even when the outdoor temperature is minus five degrees and the desired indoor temperature is 20 degrees, one of their units can deliver more than 4 kW of heat to the house while using only 1 kW of electricity.  At milder outdoor temperatures (e.g. 6 degrees), even less electricity is needed - the Coefficient of Performance increases to 4.6.

Please help increase awareness of this issue.  Public awareness could be dramatically increased by distributing information from health experts, such as by the 30 second videos produced by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the San Francisco Government's 'Spare the Air' Campaign. Please consider publicising this information to the media and in public education campaigns.

Please demand action to solve this serious health problem.  Our society has cracked down on passive smoking. It's now illegal for spectators to smoke at outdoor sports events. Yet a single wood heater chimney burning 10 kg wood (an evening's heat) emits about 100 grams of PM2.5, as much as in the smoke from 5,000 cigarettes, and has tumour potency of at least 50,000 cigarettes - wood smoke was found to cause 12 to 30 times as many tumours in mice and mutations in bacteria as the same amount of cigarette smoke.

The health of children playing sports is affected by woodsmoke and increases the need for asthma medication:  “In July you get those hazy mornings, and the Ventolin takes the edge off the smoke.”

This problem is getting worse because people buying new wood heaters have no idea that the average brand-new wood heater emits more PM2.5 per year than 1,000 petrol cars.  They are misled, having been told that heaters meeting the current “Australian standard” must be clean and environmentally friendly.  Until people know the truth, there will be little public (or government) support for the measures needed to protect public health.

Please ask the government to implement the 3 most cost-effective measures that would save at least 75% of the $8 billion health cost of woodsmoke pollution in NSW.  The Government's analysis (table, right) shows that woodsmoke is an $8 billion health problem in NSW, but phasing out wood heaters when houses are sold, not allowing new ones to be installed and licencing fees to fund education programs, assist residents whose health or lifestyle is affected by other people's woodsmoke and provide funds to replace wood stoves with non-polluting alternatives could reduce the $8 billion health costs by at least 75%.  

Please also ask the government to protect the health and lifestyles of residents affected by other people's woodsmoke. A survey of residents in the New England Region showed that almost 60% of residents that do not use wood heating sometimes or often experience problems because of other people’s wood heating – see graph.  There have been several complaints to Armidale Council about the brand new heaters with emissions ratings less than 2.5 g/kg shown above.  Despite photographic evidence of plumes exceeding 10 metres in length (in the case of a new heater installed in August 2014, on one occasion lasting for at least 10 hours continuously) Armidale Dumaresq Council has not been able to do anything to help.  The level of emissions shown has continued unabated.  
Other research on the health effects of particle pollution
How air pollution harms your heart  Air pollution accelerates deposits of calcium in heart arteries, a known cause of heart attack and stroke.  “A move from an area with low pollution to an area with high pollution could be associated with an increased rate of 10 to 20 percent in atherosclerosis.”  See also: Association between air pollution and coronary artery calcification within six metropolitan areas in the USA (the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution): a longitudinal cohort study.  "For each 5 μg PM2·5/m3increase, coronary calcium progressed by 4·1 Agatston units per year (95% CI 1·4–6·8) "

High wintertime pollution outdoors results in similarly high indoor pollution, as shown by the graph below (Fig 115, page 92, Atmosphere, State of the Environment report 2001)

HEPA filters can reduce damage to health in woodsmoke-affected areas, even for your people with no health problems.     Healthy volunteers in a woodsmoke-affected area with average outdoor PM2.5 measurements of 10 ug/m3 (40% of the current Australian "standard" of 25 ug/m3) were studied after one week of using High Efficiency Particle Air (HEPA) filters, and when (unbeknown to the volunteers) the filters had been removed.  HEPA filtration reduced PM2.5 inside homes by 60% and woodsmoke by 75%, improved blood vessel function and decreased inflammation, both predictors of cardiovascular morbidity. 
   Ryan Allen, PhD, assistant professor, Simon Fraser University, said: "Reducing air pollution appears to provide health benefits even if the pollution levels are already relatively low."




Black carbon in air pollution increases the resistance of bacteria that cause respiratory disease.  "The four-year investigation focused on how pollution in the air, which is thought to be responsible for millions of deaths each year, affects bacteria in the nose, throat and lungs of humans.
    It found black carbon, produced when diesel, biomass and biofuels are burned, changes the way bacteria grow, possibly affecting their ability to survive and beat human immune systems.
   The study concluded that the resistance of communities of Streptococcus pneumoniae – a major cause of respiratory diseases – to penicillin was increased by black carbon. It also caused this pathogen to spread from the nose down the respiratory tract, allowing disease to develop."

The NSW Air Emissions Community Web tool (image, below) shows that residential wood heating is responsible for more PM2.5 emissions in Sydney that all other sources combined


 This is despite being used as the main form of heating by only 4.3% of households,
ABS data showing the main for of energy used for space heating for 2008, the year the most recent Emissions Inventory was compiled. 

Since then, the situation has become even worse!
Section 3.1, p7 of the cost benefit analysis reports that estimated wood heater sales could have been as high as 11,500 wood heaters in 2014.

The health cost of woodsmoke is estimated to be over $8 billion - reference below 
Estimated health benefits and costs of woodsmoke control options in NSW

 

 

 

Health Benefit
$million

Cost $million

Net Benefit $million

4) Phase out at sale of house

$4,015

-$36

$3,978

2) Ban on heater sales

$2,206

-$134

$2,071

7) Licensing fees

 

$1,267

$11

$1,278

6) Sales tax on new wood heaters

$1,049

-$1

$1,048

9) Cash incentive phase out

$879

-$12

$867

8) Levying an excise/tax on biomass fuels

$419

$36

$455

5) Fuel moisture content regulations

$399

-$33

$366

3) Emission standards (3g/kg, 60% efficiency)

$301

-$3

$298

Source:  Tables 26 and 28, AECOM Office of Environment & Heritage: EconomicAppraisal of Wood Smoke Control Measures[3]
An estimated 40,000 tonnes of PM2.5 are emitted from Australia's wood heaters (Federal Government CRIS), including 11,530 in NSW (OEH report, Table 17, p31) , with the health costs of woodsmoke in NSW estimated at $8.072 billion over 20 years if no remedial action is taken (Table 26, p46)

PM2.5 is considered the most health-hazardous air pollutant; a recent study an increase of 2 μg/m3 in PM2.5 exposure was associated with a 0.32% smaller total cerebral brain volume and a 46% higher risk of covert brain infarcts, a type of silent stroke.   Despite its proximity to mines and power stations generating electricity for 3.25 million homes, CSIRO's chemical fingerprinting showed that 62% of PM2.5 in Muswellbrook in winter was from domestic wood heaters.  People need impartial information to counter the widespread misunderstanding that the woodsmoke-polluted air they breathe has only a fraction of the PM2.5 pollution from coal and power station pollution in the Hunter Valley, when it fact woodsmoke is also the dominant pollutant in the air of Hunter Valley towns such as Muswellbrook.

Climate Partners Poster: "It’s worse than a scratchy throat. Greenhouse gases and airborne particulate matter taken into the lungs penetrate the body and can create serious illnesses and damage children’s developing lungs."

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